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11 February, 2011

1 Question Fridays: Meal Planning

As with any hobby, you have to make time to do it.  But when it's a hobby, it's fun and not a chore.  Maybe that's why I don't mind meal planning and cooking, it's FUN for me!  Eric and I aren't super great about working on a meal plan EVERY week, but not all weeks need it.  A few friends have been asking me about my process, so here it is....

Why did you choose to make weekly menus in the first place? And why not monthly menus like finance books suggest?

I first learned of this idea when we were staying at a friend of Eric's house in Chicago.  I saw this cute index card on the fridge with the dinner titles listed with a M, T, W, TH, F next to them.  I thought this was so cool (clearly I didn't grow up with this method) and filed it in my "when I'm on my own" memory bank.

Many organization, simple living, and finance articles suggest planning menus at the least on a weekly basis, better on a two week basis and best on a one to two month basis.  Given the reality of our schedules planning a week in advance is the best we can do.  We also eat so many fresh items from our CSA or Farmers Market, that it's hard to rely on what the farmers will have available until we actually pick them up.

What are the benefits to meal planning?
  • Saves grocery trips, which saves time and opportunity to impulse buy 
  • Prevents us from fighting over what to have for dinner (and "compromising" by going out)
  • Gives us a plan so you know when we get home from work we know what to make, and don't end up eating another Lean Cuisine or bowl of cereal.  
  • Opportunity to balance a healthy mix of fruits, veggies, meats, proteins, carbs, calories, blah blah blah
  • Something to look forward to when we get home! mmmm :)

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for....How do you meal plan? 

    • Calendar - First, I check to see what we have going on during the week and cross of the days we're going out or over to someone else house. Then I look for days we'll be home late, and mark them as an easy meal or left overs night.  Lastly, I look for the days that I can make a big meal, perhaps a double batch to freeze, or something fancy.
    • Check the CSA/Farmers Market/Fridge - I review any inventory that is near expiration so we can use it as soon as possible.  Then I check to see what we're getting from our CSA or the Farmers Market that week.  Make a little list of ingredients we need to use or that I know we're getting.  This serves as the base for my recipe hunt.
    • Cookbook Round Up - Now that I know what type of meals I am looking for and what ingredients I have, I start in the index of the cookbooks.  No sense in browsing chicken recipes if all we're getting that week is pork chops.  Also, some cookbooks even have categories by time.  I rely on those to find some 15 or 30 minute meals.
    • Websites - These are a great alternative to cookbooks, especially if you have specific ingredients, time and diet restrictions.  The filters on many recipe sites can narrow down recipes for you. And they have pictures. AND they have user comments. Love.
    • Google Calendar - I used to keep the menu on a white board, but we found using a Google Calendar to be more helpful.  Both Eric and I have access to it at work, on our phones, and at home.  The event name is the recipe title. In the comments section we store any links to recipes, or list a cookbook page number, etc.  We save them to the calendar as an All-Day Event so that it's in bold print at the top of the calendar. This way, who ever gets home first knows exactly what we're having, where to find the recipe, and can get started.  We found this idea on SimpleMom and thought it was GENIUS! 
    • The Grocery List - There are tons of methods to doing this, for example a spreadsheet, specialty websites, grocery store applications on smart phones, etc.  But Eric does the grocery shopping and he likes the old fashion paper list.  So, that's what I do.  I write down any of the items we need, sometimes scratching things out and adding up recipes ingredients as we go. Nothing fancy.
    And that's it!

    BONUS material.  Aren't you glad you're still reading!?!

    Recipe Storage:
    When I was in college I'd clip all these great recipes from magazines or the Internet. The piles of paper chaos drove me crazy is the story of my life.  Now I do one of two things.  

    The Binder:  I have a binder with category dividers (breakfast, appetizer, holidays, cocktails, etc) and plastic sleeves.  Anytime I get a new cut-out recipe it slides right into the binder.  I also have one with photocopies of all my grandmother's recipes. It's a gold mine.

    Evernote/Spring Pad:  Anytime I find an Internet recipe, or a recipe I make on a whim (cookies!) I copy and paste the whole thing into Evernote  (or, some people use Spring Pad, which is similar and also free).  This syncs between work, home, my phone and the web.  I like this storage method because I can quickly run in to the grocery and pull up my ingredients list.  I can also tag and sort these recipes until I'm blue in the face :)  

    Happy eating!

    PS:  Have questions for us?  Click on 1 Question Fridays above and fill out the formspring box :)

    1 comment:

    1. I'm so glad you  linked to this in your year-end round up! You've got some great ideas in here that I'll definitely use! (Google calender! That hadn't occurred to me!) I like that you had success doing this using your CSA and Farmer's Markets as well, since those two sources comprise a large part of the food we bring home.


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